South Korea will impose tougher distancing measures in the greater Seoul area from Tuesday as health authorities struggle to curb a spike in coronavirus infections during the winter.
The country reported 615 new coronavirus cases, including 231 in Seoul, raising the total caseload to 38,161, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
Four more deaths were added, increasing the total fatalities to 549.
Under the tightened measures, gatherings of more than 50 people will be banned and most risk-prone facilities including clubs, karaoke bars and gyms will be closed in the greater Seoul area, home to about half of the country’s 52m population.
All cram schools will be closed while sports events will be allowed without spectators.
Most facilities including restaurants, cinemas, amusement parks, barber shops, large grocery stores and department stores will be closed after 9 pm.
Seoul faces tighter restrictions on social distancing as cases surge
Restaurants cannot serve customers after 9pm with only takeout and delivery allowed, while cafes can serve only takeout at all hours.
In-person religious services are limited to fewer than 20 participants.
Health minister Park Neung-hoo warned of an explosive spread of virus infections and a faltering medical system if health authorities are unable to slow the current pace of infections under the stronger distancing measures.
The tougher anti-virus measures and nighttime curfews are likely to damp consumption further, slowing the country’s fragile economic recovery.
Goldman Sachs on Monday revised down the country’s private consumption forecast for the fourth quarter to 0.8 per cent from 2.0 per cent previously, but improving exports are likely to offset slowing consumption.
Overall, the US investment bank raised South Korea’s growth forecast for the fourth quarter to 0.3 per cent quarter on quarter from its previous forecast of a 1.2 per cent contraction.